EAGAN (FOX 9) - All it took one was phone call to his agent for Anthony Barr to have second thoughts about leaving the Minnesota Vikings.
Barr was expecting to wake up Monday excited for a new opportunity, and more money in NFL free agency. He gave his agent a verbal agreement to join the New York Jets and be the centerpiece of their defense. He hung up the phone, and immediate regret set in.
He would be leaving a locker room he loved, and a coach who believed in him. Until he changed his mind.
“I thought Monday was going to be a fun day, it turned out to be one of the worst days of my life to be honest. I’m serious, it was terrible,” Barr said Thursday.
Barr was in constant communication with his mother while he mulled one of the bigger decisions of his life. When he told her he thought he made a mistake by agreeing to leave Minnesota, she told him, “Well, you better fix it.”
That’s when communications started with his agent to the Vikings. The two sides came to an agreement on a new contract that would keep him in Minnesota, a key piece in the middle of one of the better defenses in the NFL.
Barr couldn’t be more excited to be staying in Minnesota.
“I love my teammates, I love this locker room. My teammates and my coaches are unbreakable. This just felt right, this is where my heart is,” Barr said.
Barr was Mike Zimmer’s first draft pick, No. 9 overall, in 2014. Zimmer was beaming when speaking of Barr on Thursday, and having one of his best defensive players back in purple.
“With Anthony I can walk up to him and we speak the same language. He’s a great football player, outstanding ability, and a leader in the locker room,” Zimmer said.
It's a relationship between head coach and player that ultimately was too much for Barr to walk away from.
"Coach Zim, that’s my guy. I’ll go to war with him any day. Y'all see him as a football coach but he's so much more than that. He treats us like his children. He demands a lot and I wouldn't want it any other way," Barr said.
Barr played 13 games last season and finished with 55 tackles, including 39 solo tackles and three sacks. He also had eight tackles for a loss, two passes defended and a forced fumble.
In five seasons with the Vikings, he has 338 tackles, including 30 tackles for a loss and 13.5 sacks in 71 career games. There is a business side to the NFL that can get ugly, but the Vikings wanted to bring Barr back if at all possible.
“We are always going to try and keep our own, and Anthony Barr was next in line,” Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said.
It was an eventful few days for Barr, who said his brief involvement in free agency aged him.
“Twenty six going on 37,” Barr said.
Barr was just one of a series of moves made by Spielman at the start of free agency. The Vikings also brought back Shamar Stephen, from the same draft class as Barr, to shore up the run game on the defensive line.
He spent last year in Seattle, making 14 starts and recording two sacks and 25 tackles.
“Coming back to a place where I’m comfortable, the culture is amazing,” Stephen said.
Negotiations went down to the wire with defensive end Everson Griffen, but the Vikings were able to bring him back for the 2019 season on a restructured contract. Griffen missed five games last season as he stepped away from the team to address mental health issues.
In 11 games, he had 22 tackles and 5.5 sacks.
Spielman made it clear on Thursday that the Vikings aren’t done making moves in free agency.
“You never stop building your roster. This is just the start of free agency and putting together the 2019 Minnesota Vikings,” Spielman said.
The Vikings have had to say a few goodbyes as well. They released offensive lineman Mike Remmers and declined an option on Andrew Sendejo. They also lost Latavius Murray and Sheldon Richardson in free agency.